More than 85% of women report having at least one menopause symptom, and those symptoms can include eye problems. Even though it’s incredibly common to experience changes as you go through perimenopause and enter menopause, vision changes can sometimes go unnoticed or under-reported. If you feel like menopause is causing vision issues, here’s what may be occurring and what can help.
Menopause and eye problems
Dry eye is prevalent around menopause, with more than 60% of women reporting it. Changing hormone levels are the reason menopause can cause eye problems like dry eye. During this time of life, estrogen becomes low, and progesterone as well as androgen hormones (like testosterone) continue to decline. As a result, two glands in your eye, the meibomian and lacrimal glands, have a reduced capacity to produce lubrication.
Feeling like your eyes are itchy, red, gritty, or that your vision is blurry can all indicate dry eye. Even though it sounds counterintuitive, dry eye sometimes leads to tearing as well. However, in these instances, even though there are enough tears, the quality is not sufficient enough to adequately lubricate the eye.
Any changes to your vision should be evaluated, and addressing dry eye is important for comfort and vision health. Over-the-counter products can be beneficial. So can making modifications to your environment. This might include a quality lubricating eye product. It also means evaluating if using the blue-light filter on your phone or tablet can help. You’ll want to wear sunglasses and possibly switch out your contacts for glasses occasionally. Another factor that can make dry eye worse for women is lash extensions that are too long. These bring more air to the eye’s surface each time you blink. Instead, look for quality lash options that won’t harm your vision health.
But before stocking up on products or making too many changes on your own, it’s best to be seen by a qualified healthcare practitioner. They’ll check for any other causes behind your dry eye and be able to recommend specific steps and/or prescribe specific products.
Open-angle glaucoma is a condition that’s associated with fluid buildup and increased intraocular (inner eye) pressure, which result in damage to the optic nerve damage. Damage to the optic nerve, which carries nerve impulses to the brain, can lead to progressive, permanent vision loss–though this usually happens slowly.
Women may wonder if menopause can cause eye problems like glaucoma. As you age and especially if you’re female, you’re at an increased risk for developing open-angle glaucoma. Other risk factors include certain medical conditions, family history, and race (particularly those who are Asian, Black, and Hispanic). Yearly eye exams are necessary to evaluate the health of your vision and the optic nerve. Research indicates that women who go through menopause early (before age 45) are at a higher risk for open-angle glaucoma. It’s important to keep your appointments and make your optometrist and/or ophthalmologist aware if you’re experiencing menopause early.
Cataracts usually develops after age 60 and is more often seen in women than men. Because cataracts isn’t painful and may not affect your vision at first, some people don’t know that it’s developing. Others become aware of vision changes like cloudiness, reduced night vision, double vision, muted colors, and glare sensitivity. (Glare sensitivity is when bright light limits your ability to make out details and shapes in what you see.)
Risk factors for cataracts include smoking and diabetes. Eating a diet rich in nutrients, managing other health conditions, and working on building healthy habits are important steps to take. At first, your glasses may feel like they help with the symptoms of cataracts. As cataracts develops, this usually isn’t enough and surgery is needed. Cataracts surgery is safe and effective.
Using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause-related eye conditions and symptoms
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helps with many symptoms of menopause, but it does not universally prevent eye-related conditions associated with aging and menopause. Some studies on HRT and dry eye have concluded that HRT helps, but other studies have shown that, particularly estrogen replacement alone, can make dry eye worse.
There is some evidence that shows women on estrogen replacement may have a reduced risk of developing glaucoma. However, HRT has its own risks and benefits. The possible protection it offers against glaucoma should be just one part of the discussion you have with your primary care physician on if HRT is right for you.